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War of words on fibre roll-out between Virgin Media and BT
Friday 05 November 2010 11:17:13 by Andrew Ferguson

PC Pro's Barry Collins has covered the exchange of words between Virgin Media and BT at this weeks Westminster eForum. At the meeting it would appear BT suggested that it might be able to take its fibre roll-out programme beyond the current planned two-thirds if given access to the Virgin Media network on a wholesale basis.

It is not totally clear what was meant by wholesale access, it could range from ability to rent duct space through to actually providing a retail product over the fibre/co-ax hybrid network. The reality is probably something along the lines of renting fibre for point to point connection or duct space, although it would be interesting if a Virgin Media wholesale solution similar to BT Wholesale would allow BT to focus on rolling out to areas where there is no next-generation broadband.

It sounds like things got a bit heated when BT was accused of rolling out its new network everywhere that Virgin Media has already been, then BT saying it has not, and then the wording changing to 'vast majority' and BT still disputing this. Alas no firm numbers are available and as there is no announcement of the exact BT fibre roll-out coverage it is hard to know, but conversely it is hard to know exactly where Virgin Media services are available, as while the franchise footprints are well known, plenty of areas exist in the franchise areas without service.

So was this just posturing on the part of BT, hoping that rather than wholesale access the result might be that the government and regulator relax the requirement to provide wholesale access to its Next Generation Services in the whole UK? We hope not. There is some truth that if Virgin Media was forced to let BT rent fibre/duct space from Virgin, that it may be able to run some of its fibre links for a lower price, since in some areas the ducting may simply be in a better place.

Barry Collins in his commentary calls it a national disgrace that Virgin and BT are competing in the same locations, but to some extent this is natural when the free market is left to play. The real disgrace is that this situation has been going on for years, and no vision or firm direction has been given by the Governments of the last fifteen years. Duplicate networks are not necessarily bad, it does encourage competition, but perhaps too much in the UK competition solely means lowest price to consumer where quality of service is something that is often neglected.

As an example of the lack of joined up thinking, consider the plans for smart meters. Currently it would appear these will largely use GPRS data signals to communicate back to their central location. In areas with FTTP it would be possible to provide secure data comms that would not affect any Internet access over the fibre. This sort of joined up work, could reduce the amount of disruption to home owners, since the meter upgrade to the smart meter could be done at the same time as the fibre termination kit. Alas just like the roads, we will continue to patch up the potholes to see the next frost break the patch up and create piles of gravel to crack windscreens, rather than fix the road properly.


Posted by Somerset over 6 years ago
Advantage of GPRS is no cabling required.

Dare I suggest they could use PLA technology to connect the meter to the network termination.
Posted by olisun over 6 years ago
Roll on KA band Satellite...
Posted by camieabz over 6 years ago
I told you it was a conspiracy:



Posted by Somerset over 6 years ago
So we should not have competition.

So we should not have a monopoly.
Posted by c_j_ over 6 years ago
Wise words, Mr Ferguson. Very wise.

But this is not a "free market". This supposedly is a *regulated* competitive market, though mostly it doesn't look like it to anybody who cares about "joined up thinking" rather than a race for the gutter in terms of LLU price+service (e.g. where now, O2 fanbois?).

Wrt FTTH and utility meters: didn't somebody already announce plans along those lines? Now, who was it? Oh yes, I remember:
Posted by GMAN99 over 6 years ago
Well if Virgin are allowed to use BT poles and ducts then BT (and others) should be allowed access to the Virgin ones, Ofcom need to put aside the SMP stats and look at what is best to allow the rollout of better services at a lower install cost.
Posted by New_Londoner over 6 years ago
I find it ironic that Virgin takes advantage of the Openreach network to offer service beyond the reach of its cable network but does not feel the need to offer wholesale services on its own nework.

Equally, Virgin has been keen to suggest it will use Openreach duct and pole capacity to expand its cable network but resists calls to allow others access to its ducts.

Surely Ofcom should either require it to open up the cable network to competition or bar it from being able to access these faciities from others.
Posted by devsen over 6 years ago
Both these firms couldn't careless about the consumer all these great words are just that words. BTs daft publicity called "Infinity" is just as daft as the big ISPs "unlimited" download adverts. What does "Infinity" mean? Another soundbite but from private monopoly rather than a state one.
Posted by MarkHampshire over 6 years ago
I'm not sure why that's ironic. Virgin Media is a private company which built its own network. BT is a sort-of-private-but-not-really company which has to be regulated because it's a monopoly in much of the country and we have to keep applying sticking plasters to cover over the result of the monumentally disastrous decision to privatise the last mile.
Posted by MarkHampshire over 6 years ago
From article "Barry Collins in his commentary calls it a national disgrace that Virgin and BT are competing in the same locations, but to some extent this is natural when the free market is left to play."

It's not really a free market, though is it. BT has a market dominance that was always going to be the case, rather like privatising 192 and allowing one of the incumbent providers to keep the 192 short code.

The real disgrace is that this situation has been going on for years, and no vision or firm direction has been given by the Governments of the last fifteen years"

Very much so.
Posted by MarkHampshire over 6 years ago
If Openreach were allowed to use Virgin last mile cabling instead of knackered old phone lines, would they have to throttle the VDSL modems to stop them delivering too much bandwidth :) :)
Posted by GMAN99 over 6 years ago
They wouldn't need VDSL in those areas :) straight FTTH
Posted by herdwick over 6 years ago
perhaps BT were implying that if they could supply their (wholesale ?) customers via VM infrastructure they could focus their expenditure elsewhere.
Posted by Legolash2o over 6 years ago
VM can use BT infrastructure, If BT could use VM infrastructure, would be fair and benefit them both.
Posted by cyberdoyle over 6 years ago
think the difference is that BT don't have much decent infrastructure, virgin probably do. bt have been happy to get to the exchanges and then just milk the phone line copper the rest of the way to deliver 1st gen broadband. thanks to virgin bt are now starting to move out of exchanges. Not far, but at least its a start. shame they are mainly just replicating the areas already covered by virgin though.
Posted by GMAN99 over 6 years ago
BT don't have decent infrastructure?
Posted by wragby over 6 years ago
I was at the meeting and I don't recall BT saying they wanted to use virgin on a wholesale basis. It was Trefor Davies from Timico who asked virgin whether they had plans to offer a wholesale deal to which the reply was a definite no.

ISPs in the UK have no choice but to use BT for "super fast broadband" ie fttc/fttp. Regardless of what BT says re footprints they are bound to by and large end up with the same one as virgin because that's what the business case tells them to do.

There is a bit more commentary from the day over at
Posted by herdwick over 6 years ago
Virgin are present where about half of the people are, after all. Half of the dairy cattle aren't anything like as attractive as a broadband market.
Posted by NorwichGadfly over 6 years ago
Is it not true that BT get a better deal than Virgin with regard to business rates ?
Posted by kijoma over 6 years ago
heh BT putting fibre into already covered VM areas.. *cough* Basingstoke *cough*
Posted by GMAN99 over 6 years ago
Why wouldn't BT put fibre in areas where Virgin are, its called competition.
Posted by Somerset over 6 years ago
BT put it in for the ISPs like Sky and TalkTalk.
Posted by New_Londoner over 6 years ago
@NorwichGadfly Actually no, as per rulings from the UK courts and an EU investigation.
Posted by themanstan over 6 years ago
I still find it amazing that OFCOM does not consider VM's 50% market presence with their own infrastructure to be not SMP... it really does say how badly screwed up the regulator is and how poorly regulated our "competitive" market is...
Posted by GMAN99 over 6 years ago
Totally agree theman totally agree. Extremely one sided, if they want to speed things up they need to open up the two biggest players, BT and VM. There actual share of the market doesn't need to be considered its how much infrastructure/ducts/poles that should be looked at.
Posted by herdwick over 6 years ago
In general *nobody* has SMP where Virgin are present, which side steps it nicely. Market 3 is generally VM territory.
Posted by Dixinormous over 6 years ago
'National disgrace'. How dare private companies decide how to invest their money. Clearly disagraceful behaviour.

BT aren't after wholesale access to Virgin they want access to their ducts so that may well explain why they didn't ask about Wholesale access.
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